Mayor Adams visited Rikers Island Friday for the first time since taking office against the backdrop of an enduring crisis at the jail that has prompted federal authorities to threaten to take control of the troubled facility.
Adams, who is just over four months into his mayoralty, did not allow reporters to join him for the Rikers visit, but City Hall spokeswoman Kate Smart said the sojourn was all about lauding the correction officers guarding the embattled lockup.
“He was there to thank and show appreciation for correction officers,” Smart said, noting that it’s National Correction Officers and Employees Week.
A staffing crisis on Rikers — driven by a high rate of sickouts — has exacerbated chaos in the jail, with stabbings and other acts of violence skyrocketing. Sixteen incarcerated people died on Rikers last year, the highest recorded number since 2013, and criminal justice activists have urged Adams to expand inmate services and crack down on sick-leave abuse in the Department of Correction ranks.
Adams has opted for a different approach.
Within weeks of taking office on Jan. 1, Louis Molina, Adams’ correction commissioner, rescinded newly implemented guardrails on the DOC’s sick leave policy that were meant to rein in abuse, and also fired the department’s top internal investigator.
During his Friday trip, Adams did not meet with inmates or tour any facilities on the island, his spokeswoman said. The visit lasted less than an hour.
Joseph Russo, president of the Assistant Deputy Wardens and Deputy Wardens Association, one of the DOC unions, said Adams promised he’ll be back on Rikers soon.
“He said he will be touring Rikers more, we will be seeing him. It was very well received. We’re his supporters and we’re on his side,” Russo said. “The vibe is largely, ‘We’re counting on him to bring Rikers back.’ The correction staff are fans of his and that came through today.”
The focus of Adams’ visit unnerved inmate advocates.
“I think that sets the wrong tone,” Brooklyn Councilwoman Jennifer Guiterrez, a progressive Democrat, told the Daily News of Adams’ decision to only meet with officers. “What we’re talking about is the kind of resources that the most vulnerable need and that is the inmates.”
Guiterrez was speaking during a rally in City Hall Park on Friday morning held by former inmates and their advocates to renew calls for shutting down Rikers for good. They were particularly focused on demanding the closure of the Rose M. Singer Center, which houses female inmates in what critics say are harrowing conditions.
“Nothing has changed,” said Kelly Breim, a former Rikers inmate incarcerated on the island in the 1990s.
The mayhem on Rikers triggered federal prosecutors last month to file court papers threatening to wrest control of the jail from the city, citing an alleged lack of urgency from Molina’s department to fix a slew of issues in the jail.
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Adams’ first Rikers visit comes far earlier in his term than former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s, which did not come until nearly a year into his tenure.
The former mayor received some accolades from advocates for rolling out a plan to shut down Rikers permanently by 2027.
Adams has committed to carrying out that plan, but has also voiced reservations about the placements of some of the borough-based satellite jails that would replace Rikers under the blueprint.
During last year’s mayoral campaign, Adams said he would not back the plan’s proposal to put one of the new jails in Manhattan’s Chinatown. “I believe we’ve dumped on the Chinatown community long enough,” he said at a mayoral candidate forum in April 2021.
On the day-to-day operations of Rikers, Adams’ latest budget plan released last month proposes hiring more than 500 new correction officers.
[ NYC Mayor Eric Adams moving to terminate Rikers’ correction officers abusing sick leave policies ]
He says the staffing boost is necessary to ensure the safety of inmates, but many Council members have begged to differ.
“There have also been recommendations to work with the staff you have,” Councilwoman Carlina Rivera (D-Manhattan), who chairs the Council’s Criminal Justice Committee, told Molina pointedly during a recent hearing.